by Nick Rotunno
“What a game! Incredible! Such emotion, such passion. What we live for!”—Bill Walton
I will begin this column with a word of advice: If you’re ever having a bad day/week/month, turn on the TV and listen to Bill Walton call a basketball game (he’s currently working the Pac-12 slate for ESPN).
Listen to the hyperbole, the absurdity. You will instantly feel better. You will rejoice in the glory of college hoops, and all your worries shall be forgotten. The above quote is a mere sampling of the oratorical explosions one may expect from the Great Redhead—he’s the Winston Churchill of broadcasters.
Anyhow, we’re back on schedule here at the Week in Review, ready to recap some of the biggest upsets, rivalries and conference battles of the past seven days. I love this time of year, don’t you? The conference seasons are in full swing, teams are hitting their February stride, and just about every other day we’re treated to a classic barn-burner of a matchup.
Per usual, this past week offered plenty of drama, heroics and intrigue—just the way we like it!
As I embark on my weekly plod across the college hoops landscape, I see a thousand headlines and pulled quotes, a plentitude of insight and commentary, an army of talking heads and broadcast eccentrics and disgruntled columnists and first-rate storytellers, everybody in their own way trying to make sense of this crazy, unpredictable game, flowing along, as it always does, ever so quickly toward March Madness. It’s really quite wonderful, college basketball. In summary, here’s what I’ve gleaned this week from various media outlets:
Michigan is No. 1, for now, but that could change very soon. The Big 10 teams are battering each other into submission. The Pac-12 is a battlefield, with Oregon and Arizona atop the standings. The ACC is all about Miami, Duke and NC State. Gonzaga owns the WCC. Kansas is once again dominating the Big 12. Butler is being Butler, though the Bulldogs have hit a couple of unforeseen snags in the Atlantic 10. The SEC is a crock pot of mediocrity, with the exceptions of Florida and (sometimes) Mizzou. The Mountain West is pretty good, we’re sure of that, but we don’t know how good. Et cetera.
Clearly, there’s a lot going on. Let the recaps begin.
WEEK IN REVIEW—February 1
GAME OF THE WEEK: Northern Iowa 58, Indiana State 59—Saturday
In Missouri Valley country, January is a bleak time of year. The cornfields are barren and drab. The weather is bone-chilling. Luckily, those plucky Midwestern schools from the MVC always put together an entertaining conference season.
Our GOW was a typical Valley affair—two schools with a surplus of pride and tradition going toe-to-toe in Terre Haute. UNI took a one-point lead with about three seconds left in the game, but Jake Koch fouled ISU’s Jake Odum as he attempted a last-second three-pointer. Odum missed the first free throw, and must’ve felt his knees wobble as he stepped to the line for the second one. He calmly knocked down the other two shots, though, and stole a victory for Indiana State.
It was a close game throughout the night: UNI established a four-point lead in the first 20 minutes of play, but Indiana State outscored the Panthers 36-31 in the second frame. Neither team led by more than seven points, according to the AP.
Odum tallied 16 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists to lead Indiana State, while RJ Mahurin scored 14 points for the Sycamores. ISU made 10-11 free throws, obviously an all-important stat in a one-point ballgame.
Anthony James had a team-high 15 points for UNI.
At 14-7 overall, with wins over Evansville, Bradley and (most recently) Wichita State, the Sycamores are looking like contenders for the MVC title. They’re a clutch group. As Todd Golden wrote on January 27 for the Tribune-Star (Terre Haute), “In its nine MVC games so far, ISU has outscored its opponent in the final 10 minutes of four of them and has been even in the final 10 minutes of two other MVC games… The Sycamores’ timing is uncanny as the last 10 minutes are obviously the best time to turn it on. The Sycamores have either shot or defended their way into contention in the final minute of nearly every one of its games.”
Keep an eye on this team—few remember it, but the Sycs beat Mississippi and Miami in the nonconference season. ISU might be busting brackets come March.
No. 3 Syracuse 71, Villanova 75 (OT)
Syracuse if very talented and could go far in the NCAA Tournament, but Villanova played a fine ballgame and earned a hard-fought Big East victory on Saturday. The Wildcats needed overtime, clutch shot-making and a whole lot of fight, but they got it done in Philly.
‘Nova guard Ryan Arcidiacono knocked down a three-pointer with two seconds left in the second half, tying the score at 61. Teammate James Bell made two three’s in overtime and scored a crucial layup that gave the Wildcats a three-point advantage. Villanova knocked down its free-throws and secured yet another win over a top-ranked opponent, its second such victory in four days.
The Tuesday prior, Villanova had beaten No. 5 Louisville 73-64.
Durran Hilliard was fantastic for the Wildcats, scoring 25 points and grabbing seven boards. Do-it-all forward Mouphtaou Yarou had 14 points, 16 rebounds and eight offensive rebounds. The Wildcats shot 42.1 percent against the Syracuse zone, and shot a staggering 27 three-pointers (they hit nine of them).
Brandon Triche scored a team-high 23 points for Syracuse, which was without second-leading scorer James Southerland, who was out because of an eligibility problem.
Villanova is unranked but clearly capable of beating just about anyone. “It takes time to build a team,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright told the Associated Press. “That’s what we’re doing here. We’re building a team.”
No. 12 Minnesota 44, Wisconsin 45
Ugh. This one looked like a Big Ten football game, with defense being the dominant theme. Wisconsin pulled out a win shooting just 37 percent from the field (17-46). Minnesota managed just 34.8 percent, so it makes sense.
Other Saturday notables:
Maryland 64, No. 1 Duke 84
No. 11 Kansas State 67, Iowa State 73
Washington 76, No. 16 Oregon 81
La Salle 69, No. 19 VCU 61
Dartmouth 77, Harvard 82
Marshall 72, Memphis 73
North Dakota State 53, South Dakota State 69
LSU 70, Kentucky 75
Washington State 71, Oregon State 68
Weber State 74, Montana 76
Air Force 57, Wyoming 48
No. 13 Michigan State 70, No. 7 Indiana 75
Sparty delivered a game effort on Sunday against Indiana, but the Hoosiers held serve in Bloomington behind Victor Oladipo’s 21 points, seven rebounds and six steals. This kid is the engine that drives the Indiana offense; his quick hands and cagey court sense make him a great defender, too.
“(Oladipo) had a knowledge base tht he put into his game as to how he was going to defend,” Indiana coach Tom Crean told reporters. “If you’re not cerebral like that and at the same time, quick, it’s hard to defend like that. But he’s been good.”
MSU, atypically, committed 19 turnovers against an active Hoosier D.